Earlier this month the Eighth Circuit court of appeals reversed summary judgment in an age-discrimination case, sending the case to trial. In Hilde v. City of Eveleth, Lieutenant Hilde applied for the Chief of Police position after his boss retired. Hilde was considered a shoe-in for the job based on his stellar work record and service score. He was 51 at the time, which made him eligible to retire under the city’s protocols. But the job went to a 43 year old candidate with a far less impressive work history. Three commissioners made the call and one of them stated “we were all aware that [Hilde] was eligible to retire at any point in time that he chose. He was eligible right then; he could have pulled the trigger any time.” The successful candidate, on the other hand, would not be able to retire for at least seven years.
Ruling for Mr. Hilde, the court held that adverse actions based on proximity to retirement can constitute age discrimination if they are based on age-based stereotyping. Here, the court stated “the city provides no evidence that the commissioners doubted Hilde’s commitment to the job for any reason but for his age-based retirement eligibility.”
Takeaway: be very careful in making employment decisions based on proximity to retirement. And don’t stereotype!